Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A dark cloud on the 3G horizon

Most of you have heard the news that AT&T and Verizon, not making much money in the phone game, have decided that they should jump into the eBook Reader battles. Many of you may also like hearing this as more competition might mean lower prices, right? Wrong!!

Amazon is their business model. Amazon sells the eBook Reader (Kindle) at or near their cost. WHY? Because they use 3G to tie the end user to having to buy eBooks from them for all eternity. In short, you pay less on the hardware and then pay thru the nose on eBooks. Choice?? Once you buy their device it is all over. You MUST buy at whatever price they set.

So, why have AT&T and Verizon jumped in? They have the 3G plans. They can sell the eBook Readers at an even lower price and then more than make it up on 24 month plans AND selling their own eBooks. Think of heavily subsidized eBook Readers to lock you into what they wanted in the first place!

Now,where does this leave the independent eBook Reader manufacturers who dislike roping people to a "plan" and are trying to allow competition to determine the price of the eBooks by allowing you to go almost anywhere to buy an eBook (in short: CHOICES mean lower prices)?

How would you like it if you were ordered to only buy from Safeway for groceries? In make-believe, let us say that California went only Safeway. How long do you think it would be before Safeway raised their prices 20-50%?? But... that would be MONOPOLY, right?

So we are going to see lack of competition on eBooks eventually. With the three-headed monster controlling the buying of books ONLY from them... there is a problem. And what about the Astaks and other independent eBook Reader firms giving you full choice? They have to climb in bed with the three-headed monster to get 3G at all... at absurd plan rates.

From my perspective, 3G so far looks more like a curse than a blessing.

Friday, April 17, 2009

What is the IDPF and what goes on.

For all who have never been to an IDPF (International Digital Publishing Forum), let me give a little summary of how it works.

The event in held every year in New York City. The venue does not really change as New York is the home of The Publishers. It has always been one day only but this year there is a workshop the day prior.

Who goes? This is where the publishers, content providers, eBook Reader manufacturers, format providers, and more all get together. It is not like CES (which is kind of like a joyful party). This is more serious and toned down. It is a day of speeches from the people that are shaping our industry. Here you will find Adam Smith from Google speaking on their 500,000 free eBooks library, Nick Bogaty speaking about Adobe Digital Editions, and the high ups from Kindle and Sony talking about new innovations we may or may not see. There are small 6 by 3 tables in the break room where some manufacturers show their wares. Pastries and coffees and juices overflow and a lot of business gets done in casual conversation. Stats and figures about the industry will be coming forth and DRM will always be discussed. Michael Smith will again talk about the need to discuss epub and how all should adopt it as a format.

A lot of decisions will be made as a result of the conference and meetings will abound both in the IDPF and around it. For the first time ever, Fictionwise will be there and I imagine will speak about Barnes & Noble buying them and about eReader as a format.

Astak will be there showing their latest devices and gaining feedback and making alliances. Some will possibly find the proceedings perhaps "stuffy" and controlled. But, this is where a lot of plans and views are made public. Old enemies and new friends will meet and discuss how they may work together. It is kind of like the State of the Industry and what can be done better to promote it.

It isn't exactly FUN... it is business. I thought that perhaps many might wonder what this conference is all about and how it impacts what we love.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Sudoku on Mentor Lite

While it is not a biggie (nobody will buy an eBook Reader just to play Sudoku) I think that the Sudoku on the Mentor Lite is a great version and I like to see quiet little innovations on my devices that are often overlooked.

There are always times when you have already read numerous pages of books while on a flight and yearn for something different. So, seeing this game on the Mentor Lite is refreshing.

First off, you will like the simplicity of bringing up the game. The top button on the left side brings up Sudoku without delay. I am a big fan of this "one touch" approach. That is the big advantage with the Mentor Lite and it can be a great time saver.

Sudoku is a game of guessing where numbers go based on what else is on the horizontal and verticle line and what other numbers appear within your 3 by 3 box. There is some guessing involved. That is why doing Sudoku in a magazine or newspaper can be frustrating. It can be hard to mark tentative possibilities and then (thru elimination) find the definite choice.

Also, people at various skill levels still need to be able to play and find it easy enough while staying challenging. Mentor Lite gives you that "easy-normal-hard" selection right off. It will also solve the "puzzel" for you when you get stuck. It gives you choices for pen, pencil, and erase. You can pencil in the possibilities for each square, 3-4 choices if needed for any one square, and yet let you erase and pen in your selection when you are ready. Using a cursor you pick the number and then decide to use a pencil or pen. You can always bring up "restart" and exiting is easy too.

The user manual has good game directions and, because Astak ALWAYS does a great FAQ sheet to help who buys our devices... we will put directions on there as well.

So... that is a brief rundown on the Sudoku feature on the Mentor Lite. I enjoyed playing it and I know you will also!!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

More in-depth look at the new Mentor Lite

The new Astak Mentor Lite will be released in about 5 weeks. So, it is time to give a better rundown on what makes the Mentor Lite and excellent basic eBook Reader!

For those who are new to eBook Readers there are essentially two types on the market:

1. Backlit with LCD screen. Has a lot of shortcomings. While it is better in the dark and reading in horribly low light, the LCD type eats up power like it is going out of style. Optimal time between charges is 8-12 hours depending on the brightness level. Can cause eye fatique quickly and watering of the eyes.

2. E-ink/E-Paper. This is what the Mentor-Lite has. You get about 8,000 pages to a single charge and there is no eye strain. Perfect on a plane or on the beach. Want to read several books on just one charge... this is the way to go.

WHY buy an eBook Reader anyway? Aren't paperbacks just dandy? First, reading paperbacks causes eye strain too. Second, how often do you go on a trip and carry 200 books along with you? You cannot pack 200 books along in a suitcase but with an eBook Reader you can pack THOUSANDS of books along with you. There is no paper involved so it saves our forests for the beavers. It uses almost zero energy. There is greatly reduced landfill and did you know that paper bi-products are toxic? So, you are saving our environment with eBook Readers! IF you do not care... go tour a paper manufacturing plant and you will!

Now... lets talk specifics. The user interface utilizes a cursor just like on your desktop computer. You are use to that... so the Mentor Lite is fast and easy to learn. It weighs 6 ounces with the battery installed. It is as thin as a pencil. It feels great in the hand.

The Mentor Lite DOES reflow pdf documents!! That means that instead of taking an oversized picture and half of the picture will not fit on the screen... it "reflows" to fit the screen size. The result is a sharper and better picture.

Do you like to display your books by title, or author, or date added, or what? You have a sort function that lets you choose on the Mentor Lite.

You have one button to change from vertical to horizontal display!

You have one button to get you back to the main menu from anywhere else you might be. Want to switch books in the middle of one book? Push one button and find another!!

This Mentor Lite comes preloaded with the game: SODOKU. It is fabulous fun and really engrossing. All the rules are on the menu and it is easy to learn. Yes, you can choose to "pencil in" several choices or "ink in" the right number. ONE button takes you to SODOKU any time!!

It has an auto-shutoff feature that you can choose on time allowed.

It uses a straight-forward circular-type keypad.

This has 8 font sizes!! You have two buttons on the right side to set the font sizes. The menu for selection not only lists eight size selections but shows you, ahead of time, what size you are picking.

It has a removable and rechargeable battery!

There will be firmwarde upgrades that will give you both a search function and dictionary support! Download them from our website.

Supports open-format. Download DRM from our www.goEZebook.com website. Planned formats are eReader and Adobe Digital Editions coming withinmonths via simple download. Supports the BIG TEN file formats!!

Languages supported. If you can speak at all... you most likely will find your language on the Mentor Lite.

This is a neat little package in 6 inch size.

Pricing and more detail forthcoming soon!!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Enter the dragons!!

So, AT&T and Verizon will release their own eBook Readers and sell eBooks. What does this mean for the end user.

Almost undoubtedly, they will adapt the Amazon role model... meaning give you a wireless connection that can ONLY lead to their eBook store. Despite the animosity thatAmazon has drawn over their totally restricted purchase of books ("Buy our device so we can hold you hostage and overcharge to our heart's content for eBooks) these two giants see phone revenue falling and want to bury Open Format.

What ever happened to competition and capitalism? To me, this Amazon model smells of monopoly... or maybe it just smells. Astak has prided itself on providing the largest variety of eBook sites where you can purchase books. Yes, we have a new website coming that will sell eBooks with a great selection (www.goEZebook.com) but we WANT you to go there to buy because the selection is good and the price the lowest. We are into some 12 formats on every device... so you can purchase almost anywhere. We list some 30,000 FREE eBooks, thru links, on our site. We are following the older model: create a better site that is fair and includes support for the end user (FAQ sheets and such) and let the end user make their own choice of where they want to be.

Next May 11 and 12, 2009, in New York City will be the annual IDPF show. It is really more of a speaking forum than a show... but anybody who is anybody in eBooks and eBook Readers will be there. This is where people like Googles eBook Project Manager, Adam Smith, will speak about the free eBook library they are offering. It is also where Adobe will speak about their expensive format: Digital Editions. This may not be the ideal venue for the end user but it is THE meeting place for the movers and shakers in the industry and striking up alliances. Michael Smith of the IDPF will speak about epub and what that means now and could mean if more would adopt it.

Also, the decision has been made: the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas (January 7-10, 2010) WILL have an eBook Pavillion for the first time. CES has finally noticed eBooks and the devices and is going all out to make it a mainstay.

Friday, April 3, 2009

More info on Mentor Lite

A few days ago I gave some preliminary info on the new Mentor Lite and mentioned what I saw on the prototype I am using to rewrite the User Manual.

I also mentioned (very honestly) that it was slow in bringing up the books but then turned the pages quite fast. It turns out my prototype does NOT have the Epson Controller in it; but production models will have this.

This will make an enormous difference in the speed of bringing up books and I wanted to clarify that my mention on this supposed speed problem is only due to the factory not getting it into the prototype.

This will be GREAT on the production models we will sell.

I also wanted to remind everyone that this is the first model of Mentor and about four Mentor models should be released in 2009. Most of these future models will be cutting edge with such innovations as 16,000 pages to a single charge, 8-16 levels of grey scale, 9.7 inch with flexi screen, and COLOR using a new technology that will still allow great charge length times (times between charges). There is also renewed talk of an 8.1 inch device.

So, there is a lot of promise showing in the new Mentor line.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Info on Pending Release of Mentor Lite

Many of you are already aware that Astak is blessed with two lines: EZ Reader and Mentor. This is because we work with two distinct factories. They come out with different designs and features.

The Mentor line was delayed as we did not think the first device was suitable for the North American market. The new Mentor Lite is, again, a great basic eBook Reader and has differences and distinctions from the EZ Reader.

The major difference upon seeing them is there are far fewer buttons on the Mentor Lite. The Mentor Lite weighs even less (about 6 ounces compared to 7 ounces for the EZ Reader). It is not earth-shaking but people notice it immediately. The EZ Reader uses a by-the -numbers approach... corresponding numbered buttons to choices on the display. The Mentor Lite uses a curser (like on a PC) so you highlite what you want and hit the "enter button". Both are effective and there are no"misfires".

The Mentor is slower on loading a book by a little but blazingly fast on turning pages. It changes pages without any black screen in between at all. So, for reading, this is a nice improvement due to an improved controller. The Mentor appears rock-solid and very reliable. I have been pounding away on it back and forth for three days to rewrite the User Manual without even a hint of a problem. The Mentor is also a 6 inch like almost all other devices now on the market.

One thing I really like about the Mentor (there is a lot to like) is that one button switches from Verticle to Horizontal Display and back again. That is a nice feature. It also has dictionary support and has a "search" function that utilizes a "soft keyboard" (keyboard on screen). Some will like the fact that it has eight (8) font sizes. It also comes pre-loaded with Sodoku, a puzzel game, that is quite captivating and comes up anytime by pushing one botton. Of course it plays stereo MP3 thru a 3.5mm headphone jack.

The screen is very high resolution and I do not understand why exactly... but it seems extroidanarily sharp in contrast. The Mentor also has an auto-off feature and supports about 20 major languages.

There is a lot more to write; and I will be more thorough once I am done playing around with it fully. Right now I am still exploring and then adding what I find into the User Manual.